Sunday, December 26, 2010

When the Star Disappeared

What must the wise men have thought as day after day, their journey continued with no end in sight? What must their families have thought when their loved ones decided to set out on the journey in the first place? Who in his right mind would leave home to travel by faith, following not a map, not a handwritten message, but a shimmering pinpoint of light in the night sky?

The magi traveled such a long distance to find the king of the Jews, initially going to Jerusalem--where one would expect to find such a king.

Scripture says, "magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him'" (Matt. 2:1-2). They weren't looking for Herod--self proclaimed king of the Jews. No, the one "born king" was the one they sought. But in Jerusalem, they came up empty.

MacArthur says the verb tense "saying" implies the magi asked not once, not twice, but repeatedly, continuously as they walked around the city, "questioning everyone they met."*

In Jerusalem, no one knew of such a king's birth. But just the idea of a "born king" set the city on edge: "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (v. 3). One definition for "troubled" in Strong's is "to strike one's spirit with fear and dread." That's how I imagine Herod felt.

King Herod has made me scratch my head a bit this Christmas season. He's the one with the legacy of sending soldiers to murder all the little boys in Bethlehem. With a heart full of murderous intentions all along, why trust foreigners to bring him the intel? Or why not send his own trusted envoy to accompany the magi? For someone wanting to squash the competition, it makes sense. But for reasons only known to God, Herod sat and waited until he realized he'd been duped.

Meanwhile, the wise men kept moving, this time directed not by a star, but by Herod and the chief priests to Bethlehem: "and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (v. 9-10).

This isn't the way I remember my Christmas story. Why rejoice at the star? Hadn't they been following it across the desert for miles and miles and miles? By now, wasn't it as familiar as their camel's gait?

I don't think so. Their "exceedingly" joyful rejoicing seems to imply that the star had, at some point, disappeared and now had returned. If that is the case, then what faith must the magi have had to continue on their journey with no visible light as their guide?

And although Scripture doesn't say it, what exceedingly rejoicing joy, what unspeakable joy the magi must have felt to see their journey of faith rewarded with sight of Immanuel, God with Us.

This upcoming year, God may ask you and me to set out across the desert, following His light. At some point, the visible guiding light may disappear and we may question our actions. We may question if God is really even there, if He cares at all.

Keep walking. Keep pursuing Him with your everything. And at the end of the journey, we will see His light face to face.

*The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1121.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Remember the Lamb

I pass our family nativity, each time pausing just a moment to glance at the herd of sheep. One, two, three, four, five...plus the two held by the shepherds. Seven sheep.

Each year, our family adds one piece to the nativity. This year's addition was the woman at the well. Today, she pours water for Mary's donkey. This coming spring, she will stand by a well, waiting for Christ to change her life.

A few years ago, though, was the year for sheep. Five of them came in one box, so they technically counted as "one" piece. At that time, the lambs outnumbered the people circled around Mary and Joseph.

Each year I set them out, I think "that's quite a lot of lambs," but five days ago, I realized how wrong I was.

It's not too many lambs....it's not enough.

This week, one of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Dukes at Getting Down with Jesus wrote a guest post on another blog, reminding her readers of the Passover Lamb and how God's story has continued through the ages and still isn't finished.

Ever since, I've been dwelling on the babe in the manger, on His role as the Lamb of God.

In preparation for Passover, Old Testament tradition required that on the tenth day of the Hebrew month Nisan, the people were to choose a sheep or goat "year-old mal[e] without defect" for sacrifice so that God would literally "pass over" their sin (Ex. 12:5). Then, each family was to take that sheep in the house and care for it "until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight" (Ex. 12:6).

One lamb for the sin of each family. MacArthur says this would have meant the sacrifice of at least a hundred thousand Passover Lambs*

A hundred thousand lambs. But not just once. A hundred thousand lambs each and every Passover year.

Yet still, it wasn't enough to save the world from sin, to reconcile mankind with God the Father.

But then came one in a lowly manger, a perfect, spotless lamb.

And one Passover, He hung in agony on the cross, until 3 p.m. when the shofar blew, announcing the time when a lamb would be sacrificed for the whole nation of Israel.**

At that exact moment, He intentionally gave up His life as a sacrifice, saying, "'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last" (Lk. 23:46).

Five lambs. A hundred thousand lambs. A million lambs.

Ironically, they weren't enough. But one was and is enough.

As Peter reminds us, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas, take time to remember the Lamb.


* MacArthur. The Murder of Jesus: A Study of How Jesus Died, p. 47.
**Ray Vander Laan. The True Easter Story: The Promise Kept (video, 2000).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Natural Response

I had already decided not to post this week.

With three children and me all catching the stomach flu on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then my husband succumbing to its grips on Saturday, my time with God this week has been very little, too little to give you some human-contrived lesson from the Word.

Don't get me wrong. Each of my days has been littered with a hundred short bursts of prayer for healing, for strength to make it another hour, for please not another load of laundry tonight.

But God speaking back to me? If He did, my ears didn't hear over the sick cries of three children as I reeled from my own sickness.

This afternoon, as I cared for those three now-recovering children, as I fussed over a still very sick husband in bed, literally out of nowhere, the apostle Peter popped into my mind.

I lay down for a ten minute breather, remembering (vaguely) the story of Peter's mother-in-law. I guess I've always just thought of the disciples as men with little to no family responsibilities other than themselves. Stupid thought, I now realize. If Peter had a mother-in-law, then Peter had family obligations.

I wondered how did he do it? How did Peter--the disciple, one of three in Jesus' inner circle--how did he fully follow Christ yet still have time to take care of a sick mother-in-law?

I shook my head in wonder and defeat, knowing all too well that my following Christ this week has seemed much, much less than "fully" as I've taken care of my sick body and a sick family.

But then I took the next step and looked up the passage of Scripture. Mark says, "Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them" (Mk. 1:30-31).

Luke says upon her healing, "she immediately got up and waited on them" (Lk. 4:39). Matthew, too, reports the healing...and the woman's waiting on them once she is healed.

Three out of four gospels record this story. And all three emphasize (1) the intensity of her sickness (a high fever), (2) Jesus intervening by completely healing her, and (3) the woman's act of serving Jesus once she was healed.

It's the third part God wanted me to see.

She was healed. She served...not out of necessity, but out of gratitude for what the Lord had done for her.

When God healed me this week, I began serving my children, my husband...what I thought was a required action, and in one way, it was.

But in another way, I serve my children and my husband because I am called to love as Jesus loves...and one way to show my gratitude for His healing me is to serve Him by agape-loving those around me even when they are really, really unlovable.

The same idea applies in other realms of our lives. When God does a work in our lives, whether that work is physical healing, financial healing, or spiritual healing--our natural response should be to serve Him...immediately.

Image: copyright of Corbis images.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'll Have a Cynical Christmas

Maybe it's the economy. Or maybe the road construction blocking every route across the Amite River to the city shopping districts. Or maybe...

Last week, I made two forays into the melee. The little Christmas shopping I do is long ago finished, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hibernate until others return to a sane shopping pattern.

As I made my routine purchases, as I chatted with the cashiers, as I waited in longer lines than normal...I was amazed to find it missing--

The spirit of Christmas.

So far this year, outside the walls of my home and church, I've yet to find that cultural Christmas spirit of joy, peace, and love that manages to mysteriously infect the masses during this season of the year.

Sure, there are always a few Grinches complaining. But among Christians and non-Christians alike, I've always been able to see a greater than average number of broad smiles that reach the eyes, hear laughter resonate around me, feel the graciousness of others reaching beyond themselves.

But not this year.

I've seen impatience, irritation, bitterness, and just plain apathy. But most of all? I've seen, heard, and felt the cynicism--the pervading belief that nothing is going to get better because nothing ever does.

And that concerns me--not the thought that things might continue in a downward spiral, but the cynical attitude about life in general, an attitude that even some Christians seem to have.

Has not our God made promises to His children? And has not God been faithful to fulfill all His promises?

Consider two instances of cynicism from the pages of history:

The prophet Jeremiah most likely prophesied to a pretty cynical audience--the people of God living in exile from their homeland. The exiles probably thought God had abandoned them and believed they might as well just "make the best of it" because things wouldn't get any better and they would never return home. As the book of Esther shows, many did just that--made a new life for themselves in Babylon.

But God said, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jer. 29:11). He spoke promises of a return to Jerusalem...for those who followed Him in faith.

Earlier in history, the patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, battled cynicism as well. When Abraham was 90 years old, God said his wife Sarah would bear the child of promise. At this news, "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” (Gen 17:17).

Cynical laughter. A lapse of faith that God could work beyond human limitations to fulfill His promises.

Sarah wasn't much better than her husband. When three "men" appeared at her house "in the heat of the day," Abraham told Sarah to hurry up and make some bread to entertain their divine visitors.

I can just imagine Sarah murmuring angrily to herself as she mixed the flour and oil--making bread wasn't exactly something a woman wanted to do in the middle of a hot day, even if the visitors were heaven sent.

Later, as she eavesdropped, she heard the visitors say she would bear a son within a year: "So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?'” (Gen. 18:12).

Again, this cynical laughter, this lack of faith in God's ability to overcome anything.

Cynicism is an easy response to the world around us. But it's not just an attitude problem. Instead, it shows a deeper problem with a person's heart and soul.

Cynicism is the opposite of faith. It is faithlessness in God.

Granted, things may not get better. The economy may not recover. Society may not do a 180 in regard to its morals.

But that doesn't mean we throw in the towel and sit, complaining in our own cynicism.

Instead, we get down on our knees. We pray. We ask. And we wait in faith that God will move in our best interests...in His time.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Patriarch Abraham Caused September 11

In Poor Richard's Almanac, the great American Ben Franklin penned many a phrase that has been passed down through so many generations that people no longer remember him as the author.

You probably know more of Franklin's aphorisms than you think--"Time is money," "Keep the eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterwards," or "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

The interesting thing is many of Franklin's most famous quotes are often attributed to the book of Proverbs, although God never divinely inspired man to pen the words. One such infamous saying Franklin wrote is "God helps those who help themselves."

Ben Franklin got it wrong.

But that hasn't kept Christians and non-Christians alike from buying into that logic and living their life accordingly.

One such couple is found in Scripture, the great patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah.

God had promised Abraham biological children: "one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir" (Gen. 15:4). More than that, God had promised Abraham so many descendants that they could not be counted: the Lord said, "'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be'" (Gen. 15:5).

But as the years passed, Sarah and Abraham kept growing older until they were beyond the age when conception was humanly possible...at least that's probably what age 75 Sarah and age 85 Abraham thought.

They had waited...and waited...and waited on the Lord to end their infertility problems and grant them the long-promised child. And then somewhere along the way, Sarah came up with an idea just like Ben Franklin did--"God helps them who help themselves."

She decided to stop waiting in faith on God to act...and to act herself, to help fulfill God's promise for Him: "So Sarai said to Abram, 'Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai'" (Gen. 16:2).

As pastor and author Bryant Wright says, "This was legal, but not God's will. This was pragmatic, but not God's plan. It was socially acceptable, but not what God wanted them to do" (p.37-8).

A child was born of the union between the maid, Hagar, and Abraham. But this was not the child of promise. And as Wright details in his book Seeds of Turmoil, this one sin, this one trying to do God's work for Him in man's time, not God's--this birth of a son, Ishmael, would cause the political climate in the Middle East to be in perpetual conflict until the literal end of time.

When Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90, God finally gave the couple the promised child, Isaac. But by then, the product of Abraham and Sarah's lapse in faith, Ishmael, had grown into a teenager who would become patriarch of the Muslims, a group that continues to spend its last breath in violent opposition to Christianity and Judaism.

If only Sarah had just had faith in this moment. If only she had prayed, asking God about her idea first instead of going ahead with it and then having faith that God would bless it. If only Abraham had said, "No, we'll wait in faith."

If only.

But that's not how we like to function, do we? We're taught "critical thinking," problem-solving skills in grade school. We're praised for being able to be a quick Mr. or Mrs. Fix It.

And yet, that's not how our relationship with God should be.

If He gives us a promise, we should wait in faith and not try to "help" God--so simple, but so hard...and so important.

Our plan may be legally and socially acceptable. It may make a heck of a lot of sense. But it still may not be God's plan.

And if it's not God's plan....even though our choice may seem to be so insignificant. Even though it may seem to matter so little that "who's it going to hurt if it doesn't work?"...

In the end, that little, itty bitty decision that was legally, socially, and practically correct can lead to one side of a family being pitted against another, to a growing false religion being pitted against God's truth, to constant bloodshed in the Middle East...to the World Trade Center towers being targeted by Muslim extremists.

When we think the decision is too small to ask God about it, think back to Abraham and Sarah.

We could be planting the seeds of our own destruction.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Your Happily Ever After

Another Disney movie is being released this week--Tangled, a remake of the classic Rapunzel. Although I haven't even seen the previews, I already know the ending. It'll be some happily-ever-after, justice-always-prevailing, evil-always-being-punished conclusion to make its viewers feel all warm and fuzzy as they leave the theater, knowing all is right with the world.

I've always judged a story by its ending. Even though it's not reality, I like the happily ever after. Why should I spend two hours watching a movie that ends in sadness when I can duplicate that same feeling of disappointment in my own life, all without having to shell out six bucks to do so.

The ending is key.

Lately, I've been looking at endings of the Old Testament books of prophecy.

If you've never really spent weeks and months in these books of the Bible, if you've only made the cursory pass through them just so you can say you've read them...in other words, if you're like I was before the past few years...then you may not understand why someone would want to spend time in book after book filled with descriptions of God's anger, wrath, judgment, destruction, violence, calamity, and punishment.

Yes, the prophets are filled with stories of God's people and the people in other nations who seemed to do everything the opposite of what God intended.

The prophetic books show really terrifying visions of a righteous, holy, angry God with all creation at His disposal to exact punishment on those who do not obey Him. But that is not all.

In all the prophets' endings, they give a picture--either one of hopelessness or one of hope.

The difference between those whose outlook is hopeless and those whose future has hope?

It all boils down to whom the people belong to.

Even in the midst of God disciplining His people by allowing them to be taken captive first by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then ruled by the Greeks and finally the Romans--even then,

EVEN THEN

God remembers that the children of Israel are His people. He remembers His covenant with Abraham. And as such, He ends each prophecy to His people with a word of hope that He will not abandon them when they return to Him in repentance. He will glorify Himself by keeping His covenant and saving a remnant, which will rise up in the last days. For example:

The book of Isaiah ends with hope for God's people: "Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her...For thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream" (Is. 66:10, 12).

In Jeremiah, before turning his attention to the other nations, he promises Israel hope as well: "I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me..." (Jer. 33:2).

Hosea says of God's children, "they will blossom like the vine" (Hos. 14:7).

Joel prophesies that "The mountains [of Israel] will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water" (Joel 3:18).

Amos speaks, "In that day, I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old" (Amos 9:11).

Obadiah reminds of the remnant: "But on mount Zion there will be those who escape, And it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions" (v. 17).

Micah's last verse says, "You will give truth to Jacob And unchanging love to Abraham, Which You swore to our forefathers From the days of old" (Mic. 7:20).

Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi--their endings all look to Israel's restoration, to the Messiah from the line of David who will reign from Jerusalem, to a land restored to resemble a new Eden.

There is hope...because the people belong to God.

Yet in those same prophets, for people who do not belong to God, there is no hope.

Of Babylon, Jeremiah ends his message by saying, "You, O Lord, have promised concerning this place to cut it off, so that there will be nothing dwelling in it, whether man or beast, but it will be a perpetual desolation...so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again" (Jer. 51: 62-64).

In Nahum, he says of Nineveh, "'Your name will no longer be perpetuated...Behold, I am against you,' says the Lord of hosts...There is no relief for your breakdown, Your wound is incurable" (Nah. 1:14, 2:13, 3:19).

The same concept is true today. No matter how much you have sinned along life's journey, no matter how much God has chastened you for your sin, if you have truly repented of your sin, turned completely from it, and are seeking with all your heart, mind, and soul to obey and follow God's entire Word with your everything--if that is true, then you are adopted children in God's family...and there is hope for your future, for my future.

Yet, if you allow sin to control your actions, if you do not obey God's entire Word with your everything as an act of love for God's perfect holiness and righteousness, then you are not one of God's children and like the peoples of Babylon and Nineveh, there is truly no hope. If anyone has rejected God as those cities of old did, then she will hear the most terrifying words a person can hear from God: "I am against you."

Unlike a Disney movie, your happily ever after, my happily ever after doesn't depend on whom I marry or how much money I have. In the end, it only matters whom I belong to.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When I'm Not So Thankful

People are SO pushy this time of year. Seriously. Thanksgiving isn't quite here yet, but I've been "encouraged" all week by my pastor, the local radio station, a few salesladies, and the news media to count my blessings, to be thankful.

"Badgered" might be a better word than "encouraged." It's like in the months of November and December, Christian and non-Christian America alike is saying, "It doesn't matter if you're having problems with the mortgage or if your job is in peril or if all three of your children are crying because two of them peed down their only clean set of clothes and the third one dropped his banana in the dirt--if you're not feeling particularly thankful, it's your fault for not seeing the bigger picture in this season of thanks, so get with the program and be thankful already!

But what do you do if your smile is fake? If, sure, you're thankful for a roof over your head, clothes in your closet, and food on the table...but truthfully? Your heart still focuses on the "don't have's," on the corrupt, evil people around you whose prosperity and happiness seem to flourish while you struggle daily in silence just to make ends meet?

What then?

I've been stuck on Psalm 73 for three weeks. Yes--three weeks. I've tried to get away from it, but David's words have stuck in my mind like play dough on the bottom of my children's shoes:

"Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps. 73: 1-3).

These words grip me. This testimony could easily be mine when everything seems to be going wrong for me (and, as I'm convinced in those moments, only me).

Like David, I know that I know that God is good to those who are "pure in heart," but sometimes, my foot dangles over the cliff as I look into the darkness of sin flaunted openly by people I know...and without knowing it, my heart sparks green envy as I watch them live lives of ease while I seek righteousness yet struggle.

David continues, describing the "wonderful" life the sinful masses seem to lead:

"They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, 'How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?' This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth" (v. 4-12).

In those moments, this is what I envy--the ungodly who have no struggles weighing on their minds, who are chiseled visions of health and strength, whose overwhelming greed reaps enormous wealth, whose actions reap no consequences.

Their mouths speak God's name, post God's name, tweet God's name...they even quote Scripture when it's convenient. But in the next moment, their tongues lap up the fleshly fruits of the earth and feast off the sinful vices that bring worldly pleasure.

Upon seeing these people, David says, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments" (v. 13-14).

This is not a thought I've ever voiced, but like David, like Habakkuk, like Jeremiah--I've asked God why the righteous suffer while the wicked seem to go unchecked in their sin. And, if I'm honest, in the asking is a hint of envy at their ease.

When David enters God's sanctuary, though, he remembers who God is--a holy, righteous judge whose very nature requires Him to judge all sin. And in that moment, he says, "Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies" (v. 18-20).

You may not feel thankful every second of this Thanksgiving week. I know my fleshly limitations, and I can promise you that I won't.

But when the grumbly feelings of unthankfulness threaten to consume you, when the green-eyed monster rears his head, when sin seems to go unchecked around you--remember, remember, remember

Who. God. Is.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oracles and Visions: Which One is a Burden?

It's odd, this reading, pursuing, receiving, researching, and writing messages from God's Word. As I grow ever nearer to the two year blogging mark, you'd think I would have it figured out by now. But I'm still as baffled by it all as I was in the beginning, not knowing which messages will touch others in a demonstrable way and which messages will be met with silence.

Just last week, I wrote on a comparison of two Ninevehs that I found so fabulous, it hurt my excited face to tell it. And I got no response. This week's topic I find just as amazing. But I have no idea how it will be received.

God's message: I don't understand how it impacts others' lives. The Holy Spirit is still a mystery in the way He works....as it should be. The Spirit is an equal part of the trinity, and if I cannot understand God in His entirety, why would my understanding of the Spirit be any different?

But two things I do know: (1) the telling of the message is mandatory and (2) the telling is not always easy.

Over the past few months, I've been delving into the minor prophets--Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk--and their messages from God along with more than a few rabbit trails through Isaiah and Jeremiah.

What recently sparked my interest was how Nahum referred to the message he received. He called it "The oracle of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshitee" (Nah. 1:1, my italics).

Oracle. Vision. Redundant much?

When I came to Habakkuk, he started off saying, "The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw" (Hab. 1:1, my italics). One chapter later, though, he flipped to the other word: "Then the LORD answered me and said, 'Record the vision...'" (Hab. 2:2, my italics).

Oracle. Vision. Again?

I always assumed the two words held the same meaning. But a quick look into the Hebrew reveals a different story.

According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament, the word "vision" means "a revelation by means of a vision, an oracle, a divine communication. The primary essence of this word is not so much the vision or dream itself as the message conveyed. It signifies the direct, specific communication between God and people through the prophetic office" (p.325).

This definition was expected. It's how I use the term "vision." But the term "oracle" was a surprise. The same Dictionary defined the word "oracle" as "a burden or load; by extension, a burden in the form of a prophetic utterance or oracle. It is derived from the verb nasa meaning to lift, to bear, to carry" (674).

For both Nahum and Habakkuk, their message, their divine communication from God, was a burden for them from the beginning. The knowledge was a burden. The telling to a people who didn't want to listen and might kill them for the telling was a burden.

But they were not excused from the telling. The Lord even told Habakkuk, "
Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run" (Hab. 2:2). The image here is of a messenger who receives the message and runs to the next post to share the news with the next messenger who will then take the message and run.....

Burden or not, the message must be told.

I went back to Isaiah to see if he used both words--he did. Interestingly, he begins in the first few chapters using the word "vision," telling the reader that this is a divine message from God. But by Chapter 13, he swaps almost completely to using the word massa translated "oracles" as he presents specific divine messages of destruction concerning Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Edom, Arabia.....

It appears that when Isaiah began giving specific doomsday messages to specific peoples, the message of the vision became a huge burden--either for him to bear or for him to tell...or maybe both.

Many times in my writing here, I've asked my husband to review my posts pre-publication to ensure I was Scripturally sound. In truth, I wanted to make sure he knew what I was publishing since it was truth but wasn't politically correct. I needed him to know it could bring down the wrath of one public interest group or another.

Writing God's truth, telling God's truth is difficult in a culture that doesn't want to hear it....in a workplace that doesn't want to hear it...in a family that doesn't want to hear it.


Not every telling of God's message of sin and redemption is a burden. But when we're called upon in Christian love to share a specific message to a specific person we know (or even a specific people group we know will be hostile to the message), that's when it gets hard for our souls to voice aloud God's message of truth. Those are the times we need to rely less on ourselves and more on the Spirit to provide us the courage we need to persevere and deliver the message as God intended.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities: A Century's Difference

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."

These oft quoted words open Charles Dickens' 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

Yet, in light of my present study, when I consider them, I don't think of London and Paris. Instead, what I find interesting is one city found in Scripture that is truly a tale of two cities.

One city full of contradictions. One city of opposites going in two different directions.

Twice, Old Testament Scripture addresses at length the pagan city of Nineveh. Yet, the city's two prophesies and two responses to those prophesies are vastly different.

First, there was Nineveh's encounter with Jonah, a reluctant prophet if ever there was one.

Although four chapters in length, the entire book of Jonah isn't actually Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh. The bulk of the four chapters is Jonah's avoiding God. In fact, save for one verse where God tells Jonah to go tell Nineveh it will be destroyed for its wickedness, the first two chapters are all about Jonah--a quick trip out to sea in the opposite direction, a storm, three days in the belly of a great fish, and (finally), a grudging acceptance of his commission.

In chapter three when Jonah finally reaches the city, Scripture says, "Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown'" (Jon. 3:4).

This must be the shortest sermon in history. One sentence. Eight words.

To complete a three-day's walk in one day is no small feat. I can imagine Jonah running breathless through the city like one of those crazy-sounding street-corner preachers who repeatedly proclaim, "The end is near!!!"

But what's even stranger is that Nineveh responded to this hasty message--not a little, but in a big way: "Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, 'In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish'" (Jon. 3:5-9).

Measly little sermon. HUGE response of repentance.

Compare this city of Nineveh with the Nineveh just a century later during the time of the prophet Nahum.

This time, there is no evidence that God's prophet reluctantly wrote down his prophecy concerning Nineveh. This time, the bulk of the prophecy isn't about the prophet's own problems with obeying God's commands. And this time, the message isn't a one-sentence generic doomsday message.

Instead, Nahum's prophecy is hard-hitting and exceedingly detailed concerning the exact nature of Nineveh's destruction. Nahum says, "She is emptied! Yes, she is desolate and waste! Hearts are melting and knees knocking! Also anguish is in the whole body And all their faces are grown pale!" (Nah. 2:10). Additionally, he warns, "Your name will no longer be perpetuated. I will cut off idol and image From the house of your gods. I will prepare your grave, For you are contemptible" (Nah. 1:14).

In the NASB, the prophecy is 1,185 words long. A thousand words compared to Jonah's eight.

Yet, strangely, there is no evidence of Nineveh's repentance. There is no evidence that even one repented.

When Joshua destroyed the city of Jericho, Scripture describes the one woman who supported God's chosen people instead of the wicked in her own city. As a result, "Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho" (Jos. 6:25).

Logically, if God found it important to remember in Scripture one person who chose God's people over wickedness....surely He would have described the one or many who repented upon hearing Nahum's message.

But nothing. Not one story.

One thousand words fell on deaf ears and hardened hearts full of pride and arrogance.

History bears out Nahum's prophecy of Nineveh's utter and complete destruction. In fact, it was the Victorian time period before Nineveh's location was even rediscovered from under its tomb of sand.

One century later and a city went from an entire population kneeling in repentance to none repenting.

What happened? What made the difference?

It wasn't the length or compelling descriptiveness of a message. It wasn't the preacher.

The difference was the people's hearts. The difference was one century. One generation.

The people who repented during Jonah's day, who had heard God's judgment and seen God's relenting--those people were long gone. They had apparently failed to pass along to the next generation their own personal fear of Jehovah God. What they had passed on was their growing military power, their cruelty, their wickedness, and their pride.

And for that lack of telling about Jehovah, the next generation was annihilated.

It is not far-fetched to say that America is one generation away from being a Nineveh.

You and I. Our passing on to the next generation our love, fear, and reverence for a holy God.

If we don't, who will tell them?

(Image: Nineveh. Nebi Yunus. Iraqi archaeologists excavate the monumental entrance to a late Assyrian building. The large head of a bull-man sculpture lies in a passageway. Photo taken in May 1990 by Fredarch.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What Do I Say First?

Wyatt snatches the plastic school bus from Amelia's hands, turns, and races down the hall to the other end of the house. Her screams immediately hit the upper octaves. As if on cue, huge crocodile tears follow, splashing onto her shirt.

In a week where my oldest has tried everything in his almost-4-year-old power to annoy, irritate, and frustrate his younger siblings, this is the last straw in a whole fist full of last straws.

It's time for the naughty bench.

When all the tears have stopped, I come and sit on the floor before him, somber and with an intentionally wrinkled brow. I wait patiently for him to describe exactly what he did wrong. Then, we discuss the rules and how there are consequences for breaking them. I repeat for the thousandth time that not sharing makes mommy sad, but more importantly, it makes Jesus sad.

He speaks the words, "I'm sorry mommy." Usually, I get a hug and kiss, but this time, I send him to give one to the little girl whose feelings he hurt.

This is the structured punishment my household repeats dozens of times each week--mommy's hand of judgment doles out consequences, many times with the explanation of why coming afterwards.

It's the same way, many times, we as Christians approach non-Christians, with this in-your-face discussion of sin, judgment, and consequences before explaining the why sin is so heinous to God.

I've long been a firm believer that for one to understand her position as a sinner, she must first understand her role in breaking God's law, the Ten Commandments. One cannot understand the need for grace, for a Savior, if one doesn't understand that to break even the tiniest part of the law means necessary judgment from a perfect God.

This past week, though, I've been having different thoughts. As part of my ladies' Bible study class, I've been reading and re-reading the book of Nahum, a small 3-chapter book of prophecy concerning Nineveh's complete annihilation and, ultimately, Assyria's fall.

What's interested me is that the prophecy doesn't begin as I expected--with God laying out Nineveh's sin. Instead, it begins with a half a chapter description of who God is:

"The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes
and maintains his wrath against his enemies.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet

He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.

5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it."(Nah. 1:2-5).

Here, Nahum explains God's character--God is jealous, is the perfect avenger of wrongs, is wrathful against His enemies. God is slow to anger, is all-powerful, and is completely just in His punishments. God is in control of all creation and all mankind, both of which tremble before His almighty power.

But that's not all God is. While God is wrathful towards those who are His enemies and the enemies of His chosen people, in the next sentence, Nahum explains, "The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him" (Nah. 1:7).

God is good. God cares for His people.

To understand the first five verses explaining part of God's character helps one understand this verse explaining more of God's character.

All parts of God's character are intertwined.

For instance, it may seem like God is not giving justice to those of His people who have been wronged, but that's only because His character is one that is "slow to anger." He is slow to anger because He is just and merciful.

Likewise, God must be the avenger, must be wrathful because He is completely good, completely caring towards those who love Him, and completely just.

You cannot have one characteristic without the other. They complement each other in perfection.

Only after describing God's character does Nahum then pronounce God's judgment on Nineveh. He describes Nineveh's sin of "endless cruelty" and gives graphic details concerning the judgment to come (Nah. 3:19).

Based on this passage, I'm inclined to believe that trying to explain God's law isn't enough when presenting the gospel to non-believers. Instead, I think Nahum was divinely "on to something" here as he shows that understanding God's character is key to understanding the law and what must happen when one breaks God's law.

Transgressing God's law doesn't mean much to the person who doesn't understand the God who created it in the first place.

Only when a person truly understands who God is can he understand why God would need to send His son Jesus to die a brutal death on an old rugged cross so He could offer each of us grace.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Jell-O Contortionist

Ask any kid about Jell-O, and more than likely, he'll tell you his top two favorites along with some tips about how to best keep those slippery squares from ending up on the floor.

I remember Jell-O as a comfort food my mother made when I was sick. I also recall less-than-patiently making my way down the cafeteria-style line at Piccadilly toward my goal--those crystal goblets piled high with cubes in a rainbow of colors.

My favorite memory, though, is when I found a mail-in offer for plastic "jiggler" molds formed in the shape of eggs. After taping my quarters to a note card and printing my name and address in my best handwriting, I waited. What fun it was to pour liquid Jell-O into those molds and cool them in the refrigerator until they had transformed into eggs that were firm enough to bounce like rubber balls.

More recently, I've experienced the displeasure of Jell-O melting when left at room temperature...and I've watched my husband drink it like Kool-Aid when he was too impatient to wait.

As a liquid or solid, there's no doubt about it--Jell-O is good to eat.

But it's not a good thing to be.

In Jeremiah's day, the Israelites were a fickle people, changing their allegiances from hot to cold in a few minutes' time.

After Jeremiah finished prophesying all that the Lord commanded him to say concerning Israel's certain impending destruction if it did not repent, "the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, 'You must die!'" (Jer. 26:8).

Talk about a tough crowd. Don't like the message--dispose of the messenger. When the officials came on the scene, the priests and prophets agreed with the people and asked for Jeremiah's death.

Spirit-filled Jeremiah didn't just lay down and accept this fate. Instead, he spoke forth, reminding the people that his prophecy was from the Lord and, as such, their intended actions would bring harsh consequences: "Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing" (v. 15).

I can see the crowd's individual minds reeling--guilt and God's wrath didn't sound too good. True to their Jell-O like character, the very next verse shows the people changed their minds, this time supporting Jeremiah: "Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, 'This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.'" (v. 16).

The last verse of this episode reads, "Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death" (v. 24). I find this interesting since the people had already changed their minds a few verses earlier. Perhaps this implies that had the elders and officials (and an important man named Ahikam) not spoken for Jeremiah that the people could have easily changed their minds again. Perhaps they would have gladly put Jeremiah to death had someone in charge told them "Get 'em boys."

We see this same situation later in the New Testament. One day, the masses of people are praising and worshiping Jesus as their king with shouts of "Hosanna" and waving palm branches...only to reject him later that same day. And crucify him. All because He wasn't the military Messiah they were looking for.

This is not how I want to be. In the heat of the moment, I don't want my convictions to liquefy so that I go along with the crowd. But when things cool off and I'm not facing any trials, I also don't want to be molded into another form that looks like something other than my Jesus.

I think this is why Paul said, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom 12:2).

To keep from being like Jell-O and conforming into any shape out there, we must be transformed in Christ and constantly "renewing" our minds through the spiritual disciplines.

Not just conformed--transformed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"All" Really Does Mean "All"

A woman steps forward in an American court of law and stands in the witness box. Before she is allowed to give testimony, though, she must raise her right hand, place her left on the Bible, and swear to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

While the oath may initially seem redundant, the wording is really an attempt to completely define what "truth" is. For example, to "tell the truth" requires the woman to tell correct information as she knows it. The "whole truth," though, implies that she is required to not only speak words of "truth" but must also not omit or withhold any "truth" as she knows it. Finally, "nothing but the truth" implies that she cannot give opinion, assumptions, or conjecture--merely the truth as she knows it.

In legal cases, the judge and jury want to know every possible fact in order to help them come to a just decision. When it comes to knowing and proclaiming God and the gospel, though, modern day Christians and non-Christians alike seem to be content with knowing part of the truth.

I've listened to many a preacher give a beautiful message of God's love and mercy. The problem is that's the only kind of message I have ever heard escape their lips. Sections of the Bible that deal with sin, God's wrath, anger, and judgment are ignored, passed over...especially if the current political and cultural climate view those "sins" as "choices" instead of actions that directly contradict God's word.

God is loving. God is merciful. God is forgiving. God is compassionate.

So, why bother weighing people down with the "bad stuff"? The Bible tells us not to judge after all. Must we really learn about and share all of God's teachings, from Old Testament's Genesis to the New Testament's Revelation?

The answer lies in the word "all." Merriam-Webster defines the word as "the whole amount, quantity, or extent of." It means exactly what we think it means. All.

When the prophet Jeremiah received a word from the Lord, he heard that word twice.

The prophecy wasn't filled with warm, fuzzy messages for God's people. Instead, it was filled with words Jeremiah knew the other prophets, priests, and officials were not going to enjoy hearing. Probably for that reason, God admonished Jeremiah to "Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the LORD'S house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word!" (Jer. 26:2, my italics).

God warned Jeremiah not to omit any of His words--he had to tell the "whole truth." Interestingly, God also emphasized that Jeremiah should speak to "all the cities" coming to worship the Lord--all of God's children deserved to hear of His pending judgment for their sin.

Scripture says that Jeremiah obeyed both "all" commands: "When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people..." (v. 8, my italics).

"Why" Jeremiah obeyed is not directly addressed in Scripture. But perhaps, he obeyed because God had already explained the reason for Jeremiah's message, that Israel might repent and God would not judge their actions: "Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds" (v. 3).

Perhaps, also, he remembered an earlier prophet, Micah, who had been "filled with power--With the Spirit of the LORD--And with justice and courage To make known to Jacob his rebellious act, Even to Israel his sin" (Mic. 3:8). Like Jeremiah, Micah gave the same reason concerning why he had to speak God's word, even if it were distasteful to many: "But if they do not speak out concerning these things, Reproaches will not be turned back" (Mic. 2:6).

And perhaps Jeremiah also knew that history bore out the deferred judgment of a people when King Hezekiah both listened to the prophet Micah, "fear[ed] the LORD and entreat[ed] the favor of the LORD, and the LORD changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them" (Jer. 26:19).

Compare this to the Great Commission in the New Testament where Jesus commanded His disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20a, my italics).

Here, God the Son also uses the repetition of the word "all." Jesus' disciples are commanded to teach "all" of God's word. However, this time, they aren't just commanded to speak the message to merely "all" of God's children. With the coming of Jesus, "all the nations" is the new audience Christians are required to reach.

There is no way to turn back God's judgment on a man or woman unless the Word of the Lord is spoken--all the Word to all the nations. As Christians, you and I are just like modern-day Jeremiahs and Micahs, filled with the power and courage of the Holy Spirit. But unlike the prophets of old, we already have all God's word to study and proclaim in and out of season.

When given a platform to speak God's Word, to not proclaim it in its entirety because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, because society is becoming more accepting of the sin, or because we don't want to incur the wrath of mankind, to not say anything is simply disobedience.

HOWEVER, that proclaiming must be done in brokenness over sin--not boastfulness over our knowledge of right and wrong.

Instead, our attitude must be like the prophet Micah who, when asked to tell Israel of its sin said, "Because of this, I must lament and wail...I must make a lament like the jackals And a mourning like the ostriches" (Mic. 1:8).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Try Being More Jealous

A man. An estranged woman. A slug loaded into a 22 rifle.

Ironically, he exhibits the virtue of patience as he lies in wait. Suddenly, eyes flicker as brain synapses fire in recognition. Finger on the trigger, he aims, blasting a hole straight through the metal door of her truck before hitting his target made of easily permeable flesh.

It sounds like something from the movies or a third-world country instead of civilized suburbia in America. Yet, this is real, occurring on the same road I drove down with my children mere hours before the shooting, the same road that crosses mine a few curves away from our seemingly safe home.

But what makes me take a step back is knowing that although we've never met, his blood is mingled with mine across the branches of our genealogy, his last name the same as my grandmother's.

The newspapers quote family members who can't believe it, who say this is nothing like the man they know. How many times have I heard similar stories. Yet, this time, it's closer to home.

If his blood carries this ability to let jealousy control him, does mine as well? The answer is yes. Although I may not want to consider it, this could easily be me or anyone else for that matter.

Jealousy is a powerful emotion. And as the typeface in my newspaper shows, this sinful emotion is just one step away from sinful action. Deservedly, it gets quite a bad rap.

Scripture, though, mentions a good kind of jealousy, one that I've somehow managed to pass over since my brain sees the word and automatically thinks "bad."

But in Paul's writings to the Corinthians, he tells them, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy" (2 Cor. 11:2, my italics). Here, he presents jealousy as a good thing. At first glance, this seems contradictory to the "Thou shalt not covet" commandment, which pretty much forbids being jealous of what others have/are.

There is a key difference, however, in sinful jealousy and godly jealousy. Interestingly enough, the difference comes down to (1) motive of the jealous party and (2) a preposition. Yes, I said a preposition--remember those from grade school? Words like "of", "from", "to", and "around"?

To be jealous OF someone is sinful. This kind of jealousy often leads to more sin because its motives are self-serving and based mainly in pride.

To be jealous FOR someone, though, shows one's motives are focused on wanting the best for the other person, no matter if that person is a friend or an enemy. Jealousy, in this sense, shows concern and care for others, a real-life application of what Jesus referred to as the second most important commandment--"Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19).

Paul lived out this kind of jealousy for those he witnessed to. He was jealous for them to know Christ, to love Christ, and to serve Christ with their entire being. As such, he went hungry and homeless, suffered numerous beatings, spent years in prison, and ultimately gave his life because of his sincere concern and care for the believer and non-believer alike.

Knowing Scripture as he surely did, Paul must have learned this type of jealousy from God, Himself, a God who repeatedly exhibited jealousy for His chosen people. In Zechariah, "the LORD Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion...Therefore, this is what the LORD says: 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,' declares the LORD Almighty....'My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem" (1:14, 16-17).

God is without sin; yet, here, He is rightfully jealous for the well-being of His people. This jealousy means that He grows angry when other nations (and individuals) mistreat His people and, much like a loving Father, that He does what is needed to ensure they are taken care of.

Later in the same prophecy, God repeats His jealousy for the people of Israel, again describing exactly what His jealousy for them means He will do:

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.... 'I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain....Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there....I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God'" (Zech. 8:2-5, 7-8).

God is jealous for all His children--even those adopted into the family like me. He is so jealous for you and me that He sent His only son Jesus to die on the cross for your sin, for my sin.

In this "It's all about me" era, it seems we could all use to exercise a little more jealousy for the physical and spiritual well-being of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and yes, even our enemies.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

If You're Not Dead Yet

Several teenage girls sprayed their hair an all-too-mature shade of gray. One twisted hers up in a severe-looking bun and draped a brown, crocheted shawl around her falsely-hunched shoulders. Another wore thick, large glasses too big for her narrow face and stood, leaning heavily on a well-worn, wooden cane. Yet another held a set of dentures in her hands as all stood close together in a line, nervously giggling in dowdy, floor-length dresses.

As the crowd eagerly listened, each of these faux sages began to recite a few lines of a poem about aging that has remained in my head since I was in elementary school:

"Old age is golden, or so I’ve heard said, / But sometimes I wonder, as I crawl into bed, / With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup, / My eyes on the table until I wake up. / As sleep dims my vision, I say to myself: / Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?..."

The poem then ends with the lines, "I get up each morning and dust off my wits, / Open the paper, and read the Obits. / If I’m not there, I know I’m not dead, / So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed!"

As expected, the poem garnered many a laugh, but it also harbored an accepted truth that's not so funny--the worthlessness of the aged.

I may only be thirty-three, but I'm already finding more gray hairs than my tweezers can pluck. It concerns me that one day, I may not be considered relevant just because I have more gray than brown hair.

But if I stand on God's word, I needn't worry about the last third of my life.

In fact, in Psalm 71, a man after God's own heart, King David, expresses concern that life in his old age isn't how he planned it to be. His enemies are still attacking; he isn't living in the luxury of a trouble-free existence; his physical strength is failing.

And so in his old age, he calls out to God, reminding God (and most likely himself, too) that God has been there "continually" throughout David's life. In verse six, David speaks of how God has "sustained [him] from birth." He then remembers that God was the "confidence from my youth" (v. 5)

In his heart, he knows that God has been with him from birth to youth to old age and will still be with him even now. To prove this, three times in this chapter, David uses the word "continually."

David first asks God to remain with him: "Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come" (v. 3). Then, he reminds God that he has faithfully followed Him and still does: "My praise is continually of You" (v. 6). And, finally, David proclaims that he "will hope continually" in God" (v. 14, all my italics).

Here, David's use of the future tense "will hope" shows that his head knows God is faithful and will continue to be faithful. Yet, even though David knows in his head that God is always faithful and never changing, that still doesn't mean his flesh doesn't rise up and give him cause to worry, especially when the circumstances around him don't look too good for an old man.

As such, David's human emotions seep through his simple request: "Do not cast me off in the time of old age;Do not forsake me when my strength fails" (v. 9).

He repeats this request again in verse eighteen, but this time explains why he's asking God to take care of him now: "And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come" (v. 18, my italics).

David knew he was relevant. Gray hair, arthritic knees, dim vision and all, he knew he still had something to give back to God--his testimony to "this generation"

A few verses earlier, David explained just what exactly he wanted to declare in that testimony: "My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And of Your salvation all day long; For I do not know the sum of them" (v. 15).

David had to tell about God's blessings of salvation simply because they were limitless.

Matthew Henry's words are so powerful in explaining this Psalm: "The psalmist declares that the righteousness of Christ, and the great salvation obtained thereby, shall be the chosen subject of his discourse. Not on a sabbath only, but on every day of the week, of the year, of his life. Not merely at stated returns of solemn devotion, but on every occasion, all the day long. Why will he always dwell on this? Because he knew not the numbers thereof. It is impossible to measure the value or the fulness of these blessings. The righteousness is unspeakable, the salvation everlasting. God will not cast off his grey-headed servants when no longer capable of labouring as they have done. The Lord often strengthens his people in their souls, when nature is sinking into decay. And it is a debt which the old disciples of Christ owe to succeeding generations, to leave behind them a solemn testimony to the advantage of religion, and the truth of God's promises; and especially to the everlasting righteousness of the Redeemer."

Young or old. Blond, gray, or no hair. In the prime of your life or decaying. If you're not dead yet, you have a mission. I have a mission. A "continually" kind of mission.

Every day of every week of every month of every year--to testify of God's righteousness and salvation...because the blessings of His salvation are without limit.

Those blessings aren't just what God has saved you from in the past. They also include what he is saving you from in the future, paths of sin we will never even know we avoided if we abide in Him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gagging on God's Word

My pastor describes it as standing beneath a waterfall, the weight of the falling water pounding down over and around you as you stand on the rocks beneath, arm outstretched, trying to fill your cup. Simple physics says most of the never-ending stream of water will pass you by, failing to quench your thirst. Yet, drenched and weak from standing in the torrential downpour, you're thankful for what little bit remains in the cup for you to drink.

This is what it's like to read and seek to understand God's word.

These past two weeks, though, my interaction with the Word has looked a bit different. I stand beneath the waterfall, but with no cup. Instead, my mouth is wide open as I try to consume the big things of God. Much like my oldest son playing in the water sprinkler, each time I try to swallow, the water just won't go down my throat--it's too much for me to handle, and I gag in confusion.

Gagging on God's Word. It may not be an image we're comfortable with in relation to our interaction with the Word. Yet, if we're honest with ourselves (and if we don't pick and choose which Scriptures we read or dwell upon), there are plenty of passages in the Bible that make us pause, scratch our heads in confusion, and yes, gag, as we try to wrap our heads around a truth much too big for our finite minds to fathom.

Predestination. Faith and works. God's complete sovereignty and control over all sin while not being evil or sinful Himself. God giving saving faith and man accepting that faith even though Scripture says one can do nothing in herself to be saved. Being content in circumstances while praying earnestly about all things (like those circumstances).

It's topics like these that some Christians make sure to take the long way around, even if it means skipping entire books of the Bible. Others just merely accept without much thought the tension between the seeming opposites, calmly filing these topics away in the "unknowable" folder of their mind.

I understand that. God said through the prophet Isaiah, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is. 55:9).

But does that mean we just don't try, that if after hours and hours of study, the Spirit still hasn't revealed the truth to us, we just give up? Do we simply avoid those mysteries that just might stay a mystery until God reveals Himself to us beyond the grave? Should we not strive to understand how seemingly opposite verses are held in perfect tension by our awesome God?

I'm uncomfortable with a "closed" file I tuck Scriptures away in just because they make me uneasy, cause me to question who God is, or make my head pound as my mind truly strives to understand the incomprehensible.

Also, Paul tells us God planned to reveal His mysterious wisdom to us even before the world was created: "No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began" (1 Cor. 2:7, my italics).

Before the Garden of Eden. Before the stars. Before time itself--God wanted me to know Him. He wanted me to understand the deep mysteries of Him, to gain His "wisdom."

The word wisdom, as used in the New Testament, has several definitions. One is "skills in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense." The second definition is, "In a higher sense, wisdom, deep knowledge, natural and moral insight, learning, science, implying cultivation of mind and enlightened understanding."

Both definitions seem to fit together, the second implying both the attainment of knowledge and the first the ability to apply it. In short, "In respect to divine things, wisdom, knowledge, insight, deep understanding, represented everywhere as a divine gift, and including the idea of practical application."**

To that end--of obtaining and applying Godly knowledge--God gave us the Spirit, which "searches all things, even the deep things of God" (v. 10). Those "deep things" are not revealed to us all at once, though. Paul states, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words" (v. 13)

Two times in the previous verse, Paul uses the word "taught." Here, the Spirit is the great teacher, instructing us, giving us understanding as we move forward in our Christian walk.

If I've learned anything as a teacher, it's that learning takes time. Even geniuses don't just learn everything there is to know overnight. In fact, the term "lifelong learner" has become fashionable over the past decade, promoting the concept that one never ceases to learn.

The same is true of God and His Word. His Spirit will teach us the deep truths of God, but not all at once and not even all while we are here on earth. Yes, while we may sometimes think of death as the end, it is really just the continuation of our Christian walk, merely face to face with our Creator instead of through a dark glass. Perhaps, even our learning will continue throughout eternity.

I don't know all the reasons why God doesn't immediately reveal Himself in His entirety to each Christian. Perhaps it's because we're not really ready for all the "solid food" of God that we think we're ready for.

Whatever the reason, that doesn't mean we just stop trying to understand the deep things of God through the Spirit. To do so would mean less knowledge of who God is, and that would mean less knowledge to apply in our attempt to live Godly lives.

For now, I'll keep standing beneath that waterfall, mouth wide open to whatever pours in. I may gag every now and then, but with the knowledge that if I step out of the downpour of His living water, I'll miss the clean, refreshing Words that He will choose to teach and reveal to me.
**(Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. 1301).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dreaming of Another Season

Looking up, I saw the van's thermometer registered a sweltering 98. Just another day in a long, humid string made unbearable by an early-September heat wave.

While September 22 is the official first day of fall, I've spent my summer longing for the hot season to end and this next cooler season to engulf me. And I must confess: with each passing day, I'm getting more antsy.

The main problem is a few weeks ago, my children and I tasted those first hints of fall weather. We relished in cool mornings spent outdoors, unconcerned about how high the sun was in the sky above. "It's not too hot," my oldest repeatedly told me.

Full of hope for what was to come, we decorated the house for fall. Pilgrims and Indians now stand at attention before a ceramic turkey by the front door. Ruby and flame-orange-colored leaves twist up the stair rail and spill across the mantle. Faux pomegranates, grapes, and dried multi-colored corn still in brittle husks all spill forth from a woven cornucopia.

Wyatt told his daddy, "It's fall inside, but not fall outside yet." Then, last Thursday, he was overjoyed to find the first painted autumn leaves adorning the grass in our backyard. He, too, is catching fall-fever.

This waiting for something better, for the next season in life--sadly, it seems to describe me more than I want to admit.

For starters, as a Christian, I know there's a better place being prepared for me. And if I'm not too careful, it's all too easy to get so wrapped up in waiting for the abundant life in heaven that I just disregard the thought that there can be abundant life when I'm surrounded by such rampant sin here on this earth.

But more than that, Jesus told His disciples, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10). There is good reason to believe He wasn't just talking about an abundant life to come but also about abundant living now in Christ...and not just if your life is full of good circumstances, but if it's full of bad ones as well.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul is in prison. Talk about bad circumstances. Then, in Chapter 3, he spends the first nineteen verses expounding upon a seemingly impossible situation--unity between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ. Paul states: "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (v. 6).

Although it may be difficult to conceive of in modern times, the mystery Paul refers to was ground-breaking news. As Bible study author and speaker Priscilla Shirer* explains this passage, it was as if Paul was suggesting the creation of a third "race" of believers that would include both Jews and Gentiles.

In Paul's time, non-Christian Jews and Gentiles didn't mix. And even Spirit-infused Christian Jews and Gentiles had problems with each other. Paul's writings are full of examples of Jews trying to infiltrate the Gentile Christian church and get them to become more "Jewish" in custom and doctrine. Also, both Jew and Gentile Christians were persecuted, stoned, and even killed. In short, it wasn't an easy thing to claim Christ.

Because of these hardships, such an idea of Christian unity in the church must have seemed impossible and unimaginable to Paul's original audience just as the idea of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Caucasians living together in harmony seemed unimaginable to my American ancestors.

Even so, at the end of the chapter, Paul commands his readers to praise God in abundant living: "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever" (v. 20-21).

In the midst of a life full of hardships and impossibilities, Paul admonishes Christians to live abundantly, knowing that God can make all things possible because He has the power.

Now is the time to start living in abundance...in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Not when your (and my) children outgrow whatever horrid stage they're in right now. Not when your finances or the economy improve. Not when you are at the peak of health. Not when you're finished with school or have that dream job you've waited for or when you finally move to your dream destination or house.

NOW.

Quit waiting for the next season. Quit waiting for all your impossibilities to become possible.

Winter, spring, summer, or fall--just live passionately, unashamedly for Christ and in God's possible-making power.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Trick to Remembering

One good thing about moving to a new house is the work-out it requires, and I’m not just talking about the physical part that always seem to pinpoint those rarely used muscles. Apart from packing boxes and toting around large pieces of furniture, the mental workout is almost as time consuming and sometimes just as strenuous.

A crumpled post-it note, a box of old cards, a “lost” baby toy now revealed—with each trigger uncovered, forgotten areas on my switchboard slough off the cobwebs to light up brightly once again. The memories can make me smile, cry, or laugh as well as feel anew a long-ago heart’s piercing or melting.

Although we might think we’re quite good at forgetting most days, our brains were made for remembering.

While it’s obvious that the ability to remember is important for untold reasons, God imparted two in particular to me this week.

First is remembering who God is. Psalm 111:4 says, “He has made His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.” All of God’s creation from the single blade of grass to the highest mountain, from the fingers on a newborn’s hand to the toothless grin of a centurion—his wonders are intended to trigger our remembrance of who God is. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Creator of the universe who sustains His creation moment by moment. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly holy, and merciful judge who does nothing against His true character and nothing that is not in our eternal best interests.

To remember who God is, is the only way to survive victoriously those daily circumstances that can lead to fleshly worry, fear, or disappointment.

Secondly is remembering who I am. In a letter to the Ephesians, Paul states, “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh,…remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-13).

Here, he warns the Ephesians to not be too puffed up or prideful about their salvation, to not think they are better than others who remain lost in sin and disbelief.

We must never forget that we Christians, too, were once separated from the hope of eternity in Christ with nothing good in us to warrant that salvation. We must never forget that without the Holy Spirit residing within our souls, we would be held completely captive by our fleshly, sinful nature.

Without this remembrance of who we truly are without Christ residing within us, we might fail to thank Him daily for the gift He bestowed on us through His death. And what’s worse, we might fail to be merciful to others who are lost, choosing instead to haughtily criticize their immoral, sinful actions instead of praying for them and leading them in the right direction.

Help us, O Lord to always remember. We are mere sinners, thankfully saved by God’s grace. Nothing more.